Rotator Cuff Tears


We see a lot of patients for shoulder pain and the first question they tend to ask is “Is it my rotator cuff?” During our clinical exam, we ask questions and perform special tests to determine if there is pathology with the rotator cuff. Before we talk about some common signs, let’s review what the rotator cuff actually is.

What is the “Rotator Cuff”?

The rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles that wrap around and attach on the uppermost part of your humerus (your upper arm bone). This group of muscles are responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint as you move and rotate your arm. The rotator cuff can become injured by trauma such as a fall, repetitive motions or as a result of degeneration over time.

Signs of a Tear

Example of a rotator cuff tear.

Here are some classic indicators that you may have a rotator cuff tear:

  1. Pain at rest or at night, especially when laying on the painful side
  2. Pain or inability to lift your arm overhead
  3. Pain that refers into the upper arm
  4. Inability to reach behind your back or behind your head
  5. Grinding or cracking sounds when moving your arm


Keep in mind that rotator cuff tears are quite common and, if there is a small or partial tear of the tendon, most people do well with conservative treatment. In about 80% of patients, nonsurgical treatment relieves pain and improves function in the shoulder.

Non-Surgical Treatments

Often these treatments may include rest, activity modification, NSAIDs, steroid injections and physical therapy. If you are experiencing any symptoms of a rotator cuff tear and you continue to perform activities that are painful or stressing the shoulder, the tear may get progressively worse and require surgery.

If you’re experiencing any pain or limitations in the shoulder, don’t hesitate to see a physical therapist who can help diagnose and treat you properly!  The therapists at Resolve Physical Therapy are here for you!